Hahnemann's 10 saves stymie Man United, earn Reading 0-0 draw.
By Robert Wagman
| Marcus Hahnemann was not expected to start the season because of a serious hand injury, but he surprised his coach by earning the starting nod and was the hero of Reading's opening 0-0 draw with defending Premier League champion Manchester United.
-- Reading FC web site photo --
(in Washington, D.C.)
(Sunday, August 12, 2007) -- American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann made 10 saves in an extraordinary effort that allowed shorthanded Reading to hold off host Manchester United, the defending champion, for a 0-0 draw in the English Premier Leaguer opener for both clubs before 75,655 at Old Trafford today.
Hahnemann was not expected to start the season. In the 2006-07 season finale in May, he had his right hand shattered and, in two rounds of surgery, had two metal plates and 16 screws inserted to piece the bones back together. Many thought it might be a career-ending injury for a goalkeeper, but he reportedly worked with great diligence over the summer and fought through considerable pain to pick up where he left off last year.
"I must admit that when he reported back for training I thought there was no way he could even get into contention, but he has shown he can play and the injury is not an issue." Reading manager Steve Coppell told the team's web site. "The confidence will grow with each game."
Hahnemann came through a midweek friendly without problems and was inserted into the today's lineup. He certainly was needed, especially when his Royals went a man down in the 73rd minute after Dave Kitson was sent off with a red card for a studs-up challenge just 30 seconds after he entered the match. United outshot Reading 23-2.
Hahnemann got off to a good start, roaring off his line in the ninth minute to take a ball off the foot of Wayne Rooney before the England national striker could get a shot off. Hahemann continued strong despite United putting on a passing and shooting clinic in the Reading end.
Hahnemann made a difficult save on John O'Shea in the 64th minute, Michael Carrick in the 74th and Rooney from a goalmouth scrum in the 83rd. In the 90th minute, Hahnemann stopped a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick and, seconds later, a hard shot from Paul Scholes. He closed out his day with a save on Ryan Giggs three minutes into stoppage time and then watched another Ronaldo free kick sail high two minutes later.
U.S. midfielder Bobby Convey did not dress for Reading. He has been slow to come back from knee surgery and was one of four potential starters not available to Coppell.
Convey "hardly made an impact last year," Coppell said. "He started off not playing very well, then the injury took over. He's worked very hard in the close season. He can't train every day, but he's not far off. It's a little early but as I say he's not far off."
American striker Brian McBride is the new captain of Fulham, a team in flux with hopes to improve on a disappointing 2006-07 performance. He became only the second U.S. player to captain a Premier League side after his former national-team mate Claudio Reyna, who skippered Sunderland during his 2000-03 tenure with the Black Cats.
Fulham avoided relegation by a single point, clinching its EPL spot when American Clint Dempsey, a reserve midfielder, found net for a 1-0 triumph over Liverpool in the next to last match of the season.
Remaining in the Premier League was not enough to save manager Chris Coleman's job as owner Mohamed Fayed brought in successful Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez and then gave him a blank check to improve the squad with instruction to finish at least in the middle of the standings with no relegation worries.
Sanchez spent lavishly, nearly $40 million on eight new signings, including four players who formed the backbone of his Northern Ireland squad. However, on opening day at London rival Arsenal, McBride and fellow American, central defender Carlos Bocanegra were in their accustomed places in the starting lineup.
Dempsey began on the bench, but he was inserted at halftime, replacing Frenchman Hameur Bouazza, a $6-million dollar summer acquisition who had less than a spectacular debut after moving over from Watford.
Fulham had never won in 21 previous visits to Arsenal and today was no exception with the Gunners prevailing 2-1 before 60,039 with two goals in the final six minutes of regulation at Emirates Stadium.
The Cottagers did come close, leading most of the way on a gift goal. Veteran Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann slipped as he tried to clear an easy back pass on his first touch of the game and instead handed the ball to Fulham forward David Healy, who shot into an unprotected net in the 51st second.
Fulham played hard before things unraveled in the 84th minute. Reserve Cottagers keeper Tony Warner, a veteran who was called into action when starter Antti Niemi injured himself during pregame warmups, made 11 saves, while McBride dropped deep at times to help shore up the defense and clear balls on some of the Gunners' 14 corner kicks.
The match turned when Arsenal defender Kolo Toure beat two defenders, but then was stood up by Bocanegra, who held his ground and clearly interfered with Toure's progress. Referee Phil Dowd awarded the penalty kick, which was converted by Robin Van Persie to tie the match at 1-1.
Arsenal continued to swarm on attack with Alexander Hleb scoring the winner in the 90th minute.
Dempsey came close to equalizing, but shot wide during the five minutes of stoppage time.
American keeper Brad Friedel helped Blackburn Rovers get off to a good start, making four saves, including a dandy denying David Wheater's hard, low header, en route to a 2-1 road victory over Middlesbrough yesterday before 25,058 at the The Riverside Stadium.
In the 31st minute, a Blackburn defensive wall remained firmly grounded when Stewart Downing put a free kick into a top corner of the net beyond Friedel's outstretched fingertips for a 1-0 lead. The World Cup veteran clearly was upset with his teammates' effort on the play and Rovers rebounded with second-half tallies by Roque Santa Cruz and Matt Derbyshire.
U.S. keeper Tim Howard was not seriously tested until late in Everton's 2-1 decision over visiting Wigan yesterday before 39,220 at Goodison Park. Howard's stretched fully out to parry away Paul Scharner's late 25-yard blast to preserve the victory.
The Toffees led 2-0 on Leo Osman's goal in the 25th minute and Victor Anichebe's strike in the 75th before Wigan rallied and narrowed its deficit on Antoine Sibierski's tally in the 80th.
U.S. defender Jonathan Spector was solid defensively and pushed up the right flank often, but West Ham United fell 2-0 to Manchester United.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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